Rob Cheng's Blog
A Day To Remember

It was Sunday December 5th. The prior Thursday, I had tried to purchase tickets for the final Brazilian championship game but to no avail. There was a line a mile long and many people had camped out with tents, barbecues, chairs and umbrellas. I knew that I didn’t stand a chance so I gave up. The day of the game, my buddy John who was visiting from London rang about 9 am. He was very excited and explained to me that he could get scalped tickets for the game. Each ticket would cost about R$400. I did some quick calculations, and we had a group of 7 people (me, my wife Solange, my two kids Teddy and Jesse, our nanny Sida, and my two friends John and Mark). That means I needed to come up with a little less than R$3000, and I had a little less than an hour to come up with the cash. The scalpers were skeptical that a gringo could come up with that kind of cash on a Sunday morning. They had another thing coming.

I ran down to the Bob’s hamburger place which has an ATM. I have three ATM cards (two from Brazil and one from the United States). The only trick would be to remember all the PINs since I rarely use all three of them. I was shocked but I got all of them on the first try. I jammed R$3000 into my wallet and made the quick drive to the Marriott in Copacabana.

Now the planning begins. In Brazil, there is no true championship or playoffs. There is a point system, and Fluminese from Rio de Janeiro was the favorite. They only had to win the last game and they would be the champion of the entire country. Brazil is a football crazy country and every person, male, female, young or old had to pick an allegiance. Very early in my indoctrination into Brazilian culture, I picked Fluminese. For this reason, I had 3 male Fluminese jerseys. Also, both of my kids had already received little Fluminese jerseys as gifts. So the only people that were missing jerseys was my wife and the nanny.

The plan was that we would grab lunch at Cafe Feliz in Ipanema. Cafe Feliz is located near the Hippy Fair and I thought we could pick up two jerseys for the ladies. We arrived at Cafe Feliz and like usual the food was awesome. I was starved and got a huge salad, and then the beef with a plate of french fries. Topped it off with two home made scoops of ice cream. We ran out to buy the jerseys. We searched high and low and one can not purchase team jerseys at the Hippy Fair. One vendor explained to me that it was some sort of licensing issue. My friend John suggested we go toward the beach because there are many vendors selling the shirts illegally. Just as we were approaching the beach, we saw a shirt vendor and low and behold, he had two ladies shirts!

We were right by the Hippy Fair still and it was no problem picking up two taxis for the trek to the game. Maracan├í is Rio de Janeiro’s most famous stadium, but it is shut down. The game was to be held in a location about 20 miles from Ipanema in a neighborhood called Meier. We needed two taxis and the drivers conferred on the best way to get to the game. They chose to go north toward the airport and then west to the stadium.

Although it was not planned, their route took us very near where the war between the drug lords and the military was occuring. In the past few weeks, the drug lords had begun to burn a series of public buses. Not one person was injured. They would clear out all passengers and then burn the bus. It was still insubordinance and the photos of the buses quickly crossed the globe via the internet. Then the state of Rio de Janeiro called in the heavy reinforcement. They took over the entire neighborhood with tanks, armored vehicles and heavy artillery. On top of that, it was televised non stop. I am not a big fan of using force, but I was secretly routing for the invasion.

So now for the first time, we were less than a kilometer from the occupation. The taxi driver directed us to the points of interest. It was a little eerie to see up and personal the places I had seen on television during the military attack.

Within a few minutes, we arrived in the stadium. I looked at our tickets and all of the seats were not next to each other. In fact, some were in totally different sections. I was a little nervous, but not to worry. In Brazil, they don’t pay attention to seat numbers, and it is really on a first-come first-served basis. We were about 90 minutes before game time and we were able to get pretty good seats reasonably near center field.

Everyone in the entire stadium was rooting for Fluminese and wore the Fluminese colors of Red, Green and White. This game was to be a slam dunk. Their opponent was one of the worst teams in the division and they were a long long way from home. The mood in the stadium was festive and we all anticipated a Fluminese victory and a wild celebration.

The game began and Fluminese played horrible. They seemed tentative. It was clear that Fluminese was the better team but the half ended with a 0-0 tie. Right behind us was a man that brought a portable television, so he felt he was the commentator for the game. At times, I wanted to cover my kids ears! I think they learned a few new Portuguese words and me too. Wow!

The players began the second half the mood was tense. The ugly thoughts were going through my head. What if the other team got a lucky goal? More bizarre things have happened. The yelling and screaming and the frustration was hitting a peak. Then in one quick sequence on the opposite side of the field, Fluminese scored. The sensation in the stadium was amazing. The collective sigh of relief was felt throughout the entire stadium. The game dragged on and Fluminese won 1-0 and are national champions. This is quite the accomplishment since Flamengo another team from Rio won last year. Rio has now won two years in a row!

As the game ended, it was strange because no one was leaving. We were worried about difficulties getting a taxi on the way out. After about 15 minutes of celebrating, we were among the first to leave. We went around the block and there was actually no problem catching a taxi.

We were near the swanky Barra neighborhood and decided to dine at the churrascaria Pampa Grill. The taxis went there and we had a splendid meal at Pampa Grill. While we were dining, a huge storm hit Rio de Janeiro. Bu the time we were leaving, it was pouring down buckets of rain. Buckets and buckets. When it rains in Rio, it rains very hard.

Barra is a neighborhood very very different than Zona Sul which is the home to Copacabana, Ipanema and where I live Lagoa. We asked the people at Pampa Grill to call a taxi and over 30 minutes later not one taxi had arrived. Basically, since it was raining so hard, there were no available taxis in Barra. No where. What to do?

I took matters in my hands. I realized that it would not be possible to catch a cab just by waiting in front of the restaurant. I grabbed a heavy umbrella and started walking. I had no idea where I was going but my chances had to improve. I walked and walked in the pouring rain. There were a few taxis but none of them stopped. Finally, I was in front of one of the largest shopping centers in Rio called Barra Shopping. I asked where there was a taxi stand and I went to the other side of the mall. There was a line and I waited and waited. By this time, we had left the restaurant 2 hours ago. The problem now was that taxis were arriving at about one every 30 minutes. Finally one of the guards told me that I would be waiting forever and for me to go to a different place.

So I kept on walking. By this time, the rain had abated, but now it was getting late. A few taxis stopped but none of them wanted to drive so far away to my neighborhood. I just kept on walking and walking. Finally, a taxi stopped and I begged him to take me. He refused but he felt sorry for me. He told me he would take me to another place where I might be able to catch a taxi. So I get in and he drives me about a mile down the road. As I stop to get out of the taxi, there are two guys waving down the taxi frequently. It was my two friends that I went to the game with. They tried to jump into the taxi but I told them it was going in the wrong direction.

Shortly after that another taxi stopped but again he did not want to go all the way back to the Lagoa neighborhood. But then my friend said in his broken Portuguese, we will pay twice the meter. He still said No. I then broke in and said we would pay three times the meter. He finally relented. I jumped into the taxi and went to the restaurant to get my family. The kids had fallen asleep on the ground. There was no traffic and the meter said we owed R$50. It was now close to four hours since we had left the restaurant. I truly appreciated this guy for driving us back home. So instead of paying him R$150 or three times the amount, I gave him R$300 and said “Feliz Natal” or “Merry Christmas.”

It was an incredible day and there is a huge lesson learned. It is not easy catching a taxi in Barra when it rains.

Cashew Rabbit

Here is my personal variation on a Chinese favorite, Cashew Chicken. Instead of chicken, I used rabbit, and it turned out awesome. I like to put a little red pepper to bring out the favor. So here’s the latest in my cooking video series. Enjoy. Read More